Report shows a surge in Indonesian convictions for blasphemy

(Photo: REUTERS / Beawiharta)Members of the hardline Islamic group, the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), stab an effigy of Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama or Ahok as they reject Ahok as their governor in front of Jakarta's city hall, December 1, 2014. Jakarta's first Christian governor in nearly 50 years was sworn in two weeks ago, despite protests from religious hardliners opposing a non-Muslim taking over one of Indonesia's most powerful political jobs.

Indonesian authorities have increasingly used a range of oppressive blasphemy laws to imprison individuals for their beliefs, contributing to mounting intolerance in the country, Amnesty International says.

A new report, Prosecuting Beliefs, that the number of blasphemy convictions skyrocketed during former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's decade in power (2004-2014) compared to previous administrations.

"Scores of individuals have been imprisoned – some for nothing more than whistling while praying, posting their opinions on Facebook or saying they had received a 'revelation from God,'" the November 21 Amnesty report shows.

"Indonesia's blasphemy laws fly in the face of international law and standards and must be repealed urgently," said Rupert Abbott, Amnesty International's South East Asia and Pacific Research Director.

"We've documented more than 100 individuals who have been jailed for nothing but peacefully expressing their beliefs - they are all prisoners of conscience and should be released immediately and unconditionally,"

He said no person should be forced to live in fear for simply expressing their religious opinions and beliefs.

"President Joko Widodo's new administration has an opportunity to reverse this disturbing trend and usher in a new era of respect for human rights," said Abbott.

Although Indonesia's so-called "blasphemy law", which is the law most commonly used to prosecute people for blasphemy, has been on the statues since 1965 and is part of the Criminal Code, it was rarely used until President Yudhoyono took power.

Since 2004, Amnesty International has documented at least 106 individuals convicted under different blasphemy laws, some who have been imprisoned for up to five years.

Many of those convicted are perceived as holding minority religious views and beliefs, in the nation with the biggest population of Muslim believers.

The Amnesty report found that blasphemy cases are mostly lodged at the local level, where political actors, hard-line Islamist religious groups and security forces often collude to target minorities.

An accusation or rumour is sometimes enough to result in a person being in court on blasphemy charges.

Many individuals are harassed or attacked by hard-line groups before their arrest, and tried in court in an intimidating atmosphere. The convictions are often justified on the basis of "maintaining public order."

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